The Three Types of Eye Care Professionals

Health care for your eyes is just as important as regular physicals and exams for the rest of your body. There are three different kinds of eye doctors who specialize in eyes. They are optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians.


Ophthalmologists are eye doctors who attended medical school, experienced clinical rotations and underwent at least four years of specialized residency, occasionally preceded by an internship year. They are licensed MDs (Doctor of Medicine) or DOs (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and are trained to diagnose and treat vision problems and perform eye surgery when necessary. Some ophthalmologists receive additional training in more specialized areas of eye care, such as retinal or corneal surgery. They are all certified by a national board and held to rigorous standards to ensure the highest level of care possible.


Optometrists are eye doctors who hold a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Optometrists receive an undergraduate degree and then go on to attend a four year optometry school program.  Optometrists diagnose and treat disorders of vision and diseases of the eye.  Optometrists prescribe glasses and contact lenses as well as medications to treat eye diseases.  Optometrists in some states perform some surgical procedures, but typically refer patients who need complex surgeries to an appropriate ophthalmologist. Optometrists also must be certified by national and state boards and are also held to rigorous standards to ensure high levels of care.


Opticians, unlike ophthalmologists and optometrists, are not doctors. Most opticians have a high school diploma and a two year technical degree from a community college or university. They are not permitted to diagnose, prescribe or treat eye disorders. Instead, opticians specialize in fitting glasses, choosing frames and ensuring prescribed products fit and functions properly. Although opticians do not prescribe corrective lenses, they are aware of the different measurements and their meanings in order to make sure glasses and contacts fit appropriately. While some opticians are licensed, there is no national board regulating the education and care provided by an optician.

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